Treating Benzodiazepine Addiction
What does the treatment process look like for you or a loved one that has become addicted to benzos?
There are a variety of treatment options available to ensure people can stop benzodiazepine use as safely as possible.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are a type of prescription drug most commonly used to treat side effects of anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks.
Benzodiazepine use carries a high risk for leading to dependence and addiction so this medication has been categorized as a Schedule II controlled substance.
Unfortunately, benzos have become a relatively common drug of abuse, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse reporting that only 20% of benzo abusers obtained the medication from their doctor, with the other 80% getting benzodiazepines from friends or relatives.
Recap of Common Benzodiazepines
Xanax is generally prescribed for short-term use and is effective in combating panic attacks. Xanax has a sedative effect on the body’s central nervous system and helps to relax the muscles. Xanax is also sometimes prescribed for treating alcohol withdrawal syndrome, insomnia, depression, and more.
Klonopin targets the brain’s GABA receptors and causes sedation to the central nervous system. Klonopin is effective in treating anxiety disorders and epilepsy. Notably, Klonopin has a longer half-life, meaning it stays in the body longer than other benzos.
Like Klonopin, Valium also has a longer half-life compared to other benzos. Valium is also beneficial for treating anxiety disorders as well as epilepsy. Occasionally, Valium may also be prescribed to treat alcohol withdrawal.
Ativan can be used to provide short-term relief for panic attacks, alcohol withdrawals, or seizures. Like all benzodiazepines, Ativan carries a high risk for leading to addiction or dependence.
The Difference Between Addiction and Dependence
When a person uses a certain substance regularly, the body will eventually become used to receiving the chemicals that the substance provides. This is known as dependence or tolerance. Over time, the body’s need for a substance is likely to lead to addiction—which is actually separate from dependence.
Dependence happens as a result of your body becoming dependent on a substance. When dependence occurs, the body requires more of a substance to feel the same effects as before. Those who have become dependent on a substance are also likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop consuming that substance.
Addiction happens when an individual becomes obsessed with obtaining and using a substance regardless of the consequences. In many cases, becoming dependent on a substance will lead the user to addiction, but addiction itself is separate.
Addiction is also known as substance use disorder, as substance abuse has led to the development of a disease that often requires some form of addiction treatment program to help the individual quit.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms are some of the most dangerous withdrawals (alongside alcohol withdrawals) due to the way the brain is impacted. When quitting benzodiazepine use, the brain stops receiving the constant sedation it had become used to. As a result, the brain becomes agitated and can result in several dangerous side effects—including seizures, coma, and death.
If you or a loved one has decided to stop benzodiazepine use, it is important to seek medical advice from your healthcare provider to ensure your safety. Your doctor may suggest you follow a medical detox program to mitigate any dangerous side effects.
Benzodiazepine detox can be performed at both an inpatient and an outpatient level depending on your needs.
Xanax & Ativan Withdrawal
Withdrawal from Xanax and Ativan can be dangerous without medical intervention. In many cases, a doctor will help you taper your Xanax or Ativan usage to lessen the more negative effects of withdrawals.
Side-effects from Xanax and Ativan withdrawal include:
- Tremors (shaky hands)
- Rapid heart rate
- Delirium Tremens
These more dangerous withdrawal side effects can occur during detox from benzodiazepines and alcohol since both of these drugs impact the brain in similar ways.
Medical detox can still be performed at an outpatient level, but individuals quitting Xanax/Ativan use are strongly encouraged to seek professional help from a physician or addiction counselor.
Klonopin & Valium Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms from Klonopin and Valium may start to show up within the first day of ceasing usage. Symptoms that can manifest early on (1-4 days) are the most dangerous, as your brain is suddenly no longer receiving the sedative effects it had become used to.
Side effects from Klonopin and Valium withdrawal can include:
- Restlessness, anxiety
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Muscle aches
Acute Withdrawal Phase
Most patients will experience more acute withdrawal symptoms within the first 1-4 days since the last dose. Klonopin and Valium have a longer half-life than Xanax and Ativan, which means that it may take a bit longer to begin noticing withdrawal side effects from Klonopin and Valium.
Overall, symptoms from withdrawal may begin to appear as soon as a few hours after your last dose. Acute withdrawals are generally the most dangerous; working with a treatment facility (inpatient or outpatient) for benzo detox is highly recommended during this early stage.
Protracted Withdrawal Phase
After initial detoxification and the acute withdrawal phase, individuals can also experience protracted withdrawals for the next few weeks. These withdrawal symptoms generally relate to the person’s mood and still “feeling off,” as their body continues to normalize itself.
Working with an addiction treatment center during this later phase may still be useful, especially for individuals struggling with substance use disorder as a result of their benzo abuse.
Benzodiazepine Rehab Options
After the initial detoxification phase, you may already be enrolled in a drug rehab program or you might choose to find one locally to avoid future drug addiction. Thankfully, there are a variety of resources available to treat benzodiazepine addiction for both substance abuse and individuals that became addicted accidentally through their own prescriptions.
When considering drug rehab, it’s important to note that not all rehab centers are live-in facilities. There are also many outpatient treatment options available to help individuals with minor to moderate addiction.
Medical care may be necessary during your benzo addiction treatment, and inpatient care can provide the necessary access to medical attention. Inpatient treatment also provides the highest level of addiction treatment and this structure can be especially suitable for patients with more severe drug addiction.
Additional residential programs provide inpatient care at a minimum of 30 days, where residents will go through detoxification under medical supervision and then work through various types of therapies to combat their addiction.
Not all individuals that become addicted to benzodiazepines need around-the-clock care. For these individuals with lesser addictions, outpatient treatment is a great solution.
Within the outpatient treatment realm, there are a few different tiers of service depending on your needs and individual treatment plan.
Partial Hospitalization provides a “day rehab” setting, where patients receive intensive therapy and any medical care (if needed) but can go home at the end of each 4 to 8-hour session. Most partial hospitalization programs last for roughly 3-4 weeks.
Intensive Outpatient Programs require even less time commitment, providing a general daytime schedule involving different therapies and drug tests. Intensive outpatient programs can be beneficial for those with very minor benzo addiction or for individuals that are transitioning from a more intensive rehab program, such as inpatient treatment.
Telehealth and Teletherapy
Nowadays, teletherapy has become another option for individuals recovering from substance abuse or addiction. With teletherapy, patients have more freedom and don’t have to travel to a facility.
However, telehealth appointments don’t provide quite the same routine or structure and are generally best for mild addiction and those with very strong support systems in their regular lives.
Types of Therapies Used for Benzo Addiction
Mental health is an important aspect of addiction treatment due to how addiction impacts the brain and a person’s behaviors. Addiction, unlike dependence/tolerance to a drug, is classified as a degenerative disease. Therefore, focusing on your behavioral health after stopping benzo use can help you remain abstinent from benzos in the future without fear of relapse.
Xanax and Other Benzo Addiction Behavioral Programs
The following therapies have been shown to be helpful to individuals undergoing addiction treatment for benzodiazepines like Xanax and others.
12-Step Programs for Benzodiazepine Recovery
Most rehab programs offer access to 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These 12-step programs provide a structured, simple process through the belief in a power greater than oneself (though not necessarily religious) alongside twelve chronological steps that members can take toward self-improvement and addiction recovery.
Twelve-step programs also provide an excellent support group of peers. Together, recovering addicts help support one another and hold each other accountable as they make progress.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a very popular type of psychotherapy offered in most rehab programs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps recovering addicts identify negative habits or behaviors that may have contributed to their drug abuse and addiction. Then, with the help of their therapist, they work on shifting these negative thought patterns into more positive ones.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy, but this type of counseling tends to be especially beneficial for high-risk or in-denial patients. Sometimes, recovering addicts are unable to acknowledge or accept how their own actions led to their situation.
Through dialectical behavioral therapy, counselors help these individuals come to terms with their addiction and accept their role in not only falling into it but overcoming it.
The Cost of Benzodiazepine Rehab
The price of benzo rehab can vary. Factors include the level of intensity, length of therapy, and any additional amenities that might be included at a particular treatment center.
For instance, a residential treatment program will generally have a higher cost than outpatient programs because you are also paying for food and lodgings. In addition, a residential program located on the beach may increase the price tag due to the location.
Insurance companies are also more likely to approve coverage for outpatient programs first before resorting to coverage for inpatient rehab. Because many addictions can be treated at an outpatient level, residential or inpatient rehab tends to be reserved for severe addiction cases.
Life After Benzodiazepine Rehab
After rehab, there are a few options available for individuals who want to help bridge the gap between their treatment and their regular lives. Support groups such as 12-step programs (Narcotics Anonymous) can provide lasting support and encouragement, while sober houses can give individuals a safe transitional space to get back into daily life.
Sober Living Facilities
Sober living facilities, or sober homes, generally consist of a few recovering addicts that will live together as roommates. Some sober living has a counselor that will oversee everyone’s progress, while other sober living programs have less oversight.
Residents of sober living programs are usually required to provide regular clear drug tests to remain at the facility. They will also pay their share of rent and utilities. They may also be assigned specific chores, or work together with housemates to determine each other’s responsibilities in the household.
Aftercare can take many forms and refers to the types of programs available for recovering addicts after they have completed their rehab treatment. Aftercare programs provide continuing addiction recovery management.
The support of aftercare programs can be just as important as rehab because these programs help individuals avoid relapse and continue to lead healthier, happier lives.
Some aftercare programs include:
- 12-Step Programs (such as Narcotics Anonymous)
- Volunteer programs
- Ongoing therapy (such as CBT or DBT) with a counselor
- Alumni programs connected to your rehab center
Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment is Within Your Reach
There are so many options out there that can help you or a loved one conquer an addiction to benzodiazepines. Speak with your doctor or counselor, or take a look at SAMHSA’s program locator to find out what treatment options are closest to you.